Whidbey Camano Land TrustProtecting a Place Where the Lone Elk Plays Whidbey Camano Land TrustProtecting a Place Where the Lone Elk Plays

Protecting a Place Where the Lone Elk Plays

(This article appeared in the Land Trust’s Summer 2016 newsletter. The property was permanently protected in May of 2018).

Habitat-Rich Land in Oak Harbor Needs Community’s Support for Preservation

Donald Borgman, a lifelong Whidbey resident, and his cousin, Sharon Greenwood, approached the Land Trust with an extremely generous and wonderful offer. Donald will donate 88 acres of his 126-acre farm near Strawberry Point for a wildlife preserve, and a conservation easement on the remaining 38 acres to ensure it stays a working farm.

With a combination of fields, forest, and wetlands, Donald’s property provides excellent wildlife habitat. It’s also ideally suited to support a future parking lot off Strawberry Point Road and a loop trail that will be more than a mile long and perfect for hiking, birdwatching, and general wildlife observation. Visitors to the future preserve also will enjoy views of Mount Baker and Mount Erie.

“We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to create the Donald Borgman Nature Preserve,” said Ryan Elting, our conservation director. “Like our other preserves, it will be free and open to the public for quiet recreation. The only hitch? In order to accept the land and open the Preserve, we have to raise $125,000 in private donations.”

To acquire land and conservation easements, the Land Trust must be confident it has the financial assets to acquire, protect, care for, and defend the property’s conservation values, now and in the future. “When we purchase or accept a donation of a property or conservation easement, the Land Trust is making a promise to future generations,” said Pat Powell, our executive director. “We have to ensure we can meet our forever land stewardship obligations.”

Of the $125,000 total, $75,000 needs to be secured before we can accept this incredible gift. The remaining funds are required to cover the cost of constructing the parking lot, installing fencing, and developing the loop trail.

Donations are already coming in, thanks in part to a story in the Whidbey News-Times. The article announced how the Whidbey Audubon Society (www.whidbeyaudubon.org) is supporting the project, and awarded $10,000 to support the acquisition of the future preserve.

Wildlife on the property is varied and includes deer, coyote, barn owl, great horned owl, northern harrier, and pileated woodpecker (considered an at-risk species). Many resident winter, spring, and summer migratory songbirds also seek shelter, food, and nesting habitat within the extensive forest edge and in the open fields and wetlands.

There’s also plenty of evidence that Whidbey Island’s lone resident elk, “Bruiser,” spends quite a bit of time on Donald’s property. “Bruiser” made the lonely swim from the mainland to north Whidbey a few years ago and seems to have decided to hang out in the Strawberry Point area.

Donald’s family ties to Whidbey Island go back a long way on his father’s side. His great grandparents (his dad’s mom’s parents), the Siegfried’s, moved to the Strawberry Point area of Oak Harbor in the late 1800s. In fact, according to papers found in the old farmhouse, his great grandfather, J.E. Siegfried, was assessed taxes by the Oak Harbor School District as early as 1892.

His father’s father emigrated from the Netherlands and started the Borgman Farm, raising hay and beef cattle. His mother, Gudrun Borgman, who grew up in Everett, was a third-grade teacher at Crescent Harbor Elementary School in Oak Harbor until her retirement. Donald followed in his father’s footsteps, living on the farm and raising hay and cattle. He also served the community as a volunteer firefighter for many years.

Cousin Sharon has fond childhood memories of summer weekend visits to the Farm and the beach place across the road, owned by Donald’s great uncle Frank Siegfried.

“We came up each July after the haying,” she said. “We had no appreciation for how much work went into the Farm. We just got to play. There were hay rides, and the hay wagon was the buffet table for all of our meals. The seven cousins got to sleep in the hay loft.”

When Donald, an only child, asked his cousin to assist him with managing his affairs, Sharon wondered if there was any chance to protect the Farm from development. Curious, she and her husband, Gary, visited the Land Trust’s website. She recalls finding our Land Protection Map online, “And, lo and behold, there was a circle around Donald’s property, and we thought, maybe we should call.”

The circle indicated our Strawberry Point Protection Priority Area. Donald’s farm is right in the middle, just across the road from our Strawberry Point conservation easement that includes 1,200 feet of Skagit Bay shoreline and a year-round salmon-bearing stream fed from the Borgman Farm.

If sold for development, the Farm could be subdivided and developed into many home sites, but that’s the last thing the cousins want. Donald remembers when there were few houses in the Strawberry Point area. When he was growing up, “There weren’t any houses on the bluff, but now there’s a lot.” His great uncle Frank’s land, where the cousins played as children, now has five homes on it.

Having grown up in Everett, and now living in the Seattle area, Sharon strongly believes in protecting open spaces, “It’s important to have a place where you can get out and be in nature and see wildlife. It gives you some perspective as to your place on the planet.”

Donald and Sharon acknowledge there’s a need for housing and further development is inevitable, but they don’t want it to happen on their beloved, historic farm.

“That’s how it (development) goes, unless people say, ‘but not here, not in this place,’” Sharon said.